Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series previewing the UC Davis fall sports.
“Within the cross country world, the adage goes ‘Half of the season is over by the time the athletes report,’ ” says UC Davis coach Drew Wartenburg.
Starting more than 10 weeks ago, UCD harriers were working to establish, what runners call, a base.
Once the base is found, along come evaluations — long looks from coaches who are expected to provide recommendations about how to get even more from the Aggies’ rugged fitness regimes.
“We expect them to log consistent mileage, get strong and show up fit so we can worry about tinkering with individual pieces throughout the course of the season,” fifth-year mentor Wartenburg explains. “We want to bring them to a peak by mid-November, when it really counts. The summer is crucial.”
To date, Wartenburg likes what he sees.
He says there is a desired mix of senior leadership and young runners on both the men’s and women’s teams. He also likes the way his charges are coming together on and off the course.
“With the men, it’s a group that’s returning great cohesiveness,” Wartenburg says. “They put in the time and may be able to surprise some folks who will probably write us off as a young team.
“I think this year … we’re going to expect them to run over their heads a little bit. But they can do that.”
Last year, in a sixth-place team finish at the Big West Conference meet, Davis High graduate Trevor Halsted paced the Aggies with a fourth-place showing. Now-sophomores Brandon Pugh (13th) and Cody Nguyen (22nd) also served notice.
Wartenburg says his freshmen are intriguing. That first-year foursome of Luke Dorman (Trabuco Hills High), Austin Goins (Canyon, Anaheim), Jon Horvath (Woodcreek) and Alex Grigoriev (Rancho Bernardo) could be “exciting,” says the coach, who adds: “But they’re not expected to shoulder a lot of the load. Sometimes it is easier to integrate into the program and perform well when you’re not expected to pull a lot of weight.”
Another former Blue Devil, senior Grayson Hough, is a captain and provides good course marks and stable leadership, according to Wartenburg.
Halsted is likely to be the Aggies’ competitive leader, and all Big West eyes are on Pugh.
“With this year more seasoning, look for (Pugh) to step up,” Wartenburg says.
“We’ll have a lot of interchangeable parts,” the coach continues, noting guys like former Del Campo runner Jordan Rushing, a sophomore, “will have grown a lot with much more experience.”
On the women’s side, UCD went to last November’s Big West Conference finale as a title-worthy team — on paper, perhaps the superior league school.
However, the Aggies didn’t run their best race, Cal Poly did and the locals finished second.
The inspiring Sarah Sumpter and Alycia Cridebring — both seniors in 2013 — went 2-3 that day, but it wasn’t enough.
Wartenburg says there’s a sense of unfinished business.
Captain Cridebring, Sumpter and junior Katie Fry are expected to be a high-finishing trio throughout the year — and if any of the rest of the women’s crew can find their way into top-25 finishes, this could be another Big West championship squad (UCD won its first BWC title in 2011).
Sumpter is a sixth-year Aggie, who sat out two years due to illness. Wartenburg notes its been “a long road back” for the cancer survivor, but that she’s healthy and “(the program) is lucky to have her again.”
The fun starts Saturday when Davis hosts it Aggie Open at the Putah Creek Reserve Course (off Pedrick Road near the Primate Center).
“It’s a low-key meet,” says Wartenburg, who added director of track and field to his crowded business card in 2011. “We’re just trying to get our legs under us. (It’s) an opportunity to get our competitive juices flowing without really taking a big step back in training.”
The coach says it’s a good introduction for his freshmen and “it will be first time in uniform since May or June for the rest of the team.”
It gets serious as the Fresno State Invitational (Sept. 14) and Stanford Invitational (Spet. 28) appear next on the calendar.
A trip to the NCAA West Regional Preview (Oct. 4) will be a further statement on where the Aggies stand.
NCAA Pre-Nationals (Indiana for men, Wisconsin for women) “are key meets where (we see) how things are coming together,” Wartenburg adds.
Notes: Big West Championship will be at Cal Poly Nov. 2: “We’d like nothing more than to go down there and run well in their backyard,” Wartenburg says with a smile. UCD hosts the Doc Adams Open (Nov. 9) before NCAA West Regionals (Nov. 15) are in Sacramento. Terre Haute, Ind., is the home of the NCAA Championships (Nov. 23). … All 35 Aggie cross country runners are from California (including former DHS standout Hilary Teaford). … Wartenburg is a two-time women’s cross country Big West Coach of the Year. His assistants are Devon Elizondo and volunteer Kim Conley, who just returned from a 12th-place 5,000-meter finish at 14th IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Moscow. Conley ran the event at last year’s London Olympics.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 747-8047.